Which came first? Easter or the egg?
by Mark Wiley
As Easter quickly approaches, I find myself thinking about Easter eggs. I confess the symbolism of Easter eggs had never worked well for me. It is confusing. The Easter Bunny delivering eggs seems odd. After all, bunnies do not lay eggs. Why is the bunny delivering something that comes from chickens? Did the Easter Bunny steal the eggs?
Oh, I understand the idea of Easter eggs: that something hard and closed ends up as a source of new life. The egg is vaguely similar to the tomb of Jesus. I am not so sure, though, that a hatched chicken is a parallel to Jesus. Isn’t this symbolism lost when we boil the eggs? And don’t even get me started about Peeps!
Nevertheless, there are few moments that compare to that moment of exquisite glee when the kids scurry off to find the Easter eggs.
I also love decorating the eggs, particularly using intricate designs. I love the story from the Eastern Church that Mary brought eggs with her on the first Easter so they could have a meal as they performed burial rights on Jesus. When they arrived at the tomb, not only was Jesus gone, but also the eggs had turned deep red. Lovely!
I received a new appreciation for Easter eggs from computer games. Yes, there are Easter eggs in computer games. Game designers hide these “Easter eggs” in the game. They are never obvious or easy to find but, if found, these Easter eggs provide something extra—information, special powers or a unique experience. Yet, most people will never find these eggs because they will never look for them. Finding an Easter egg is still a moment of wonder and glee.
While I will eat more than my share of chocolate eggs, I think my real concern about Easter eggs is that they make Easter too warm and fuzzy. Easter is not about bunnies or chocolate eggs, it is not even egg hunts with a bazillion eggs. I am not sure Easter is a story for kids.
Easter begins in a graveyard, not the well-kept manicured lawns or marble crypts of today’s graveyards, but unmarked limestone caves. This is not a graveyard you would visit to leave flowers. It was a place of death, of finality, of The End.
Easter begins in a tragedy. Those who had been after Jesus for years finally succeeded; they put him down and killed him. Ever since he was born, someone in power was trying to get rid of him. Now they got him, and nailed him to a tree. The Easter story now seems something far more treacherous than a playful egg hunt.
We are not sure exactly why his death was necessary. They never would have caught Jesus, of course, if he had not wanted them to catch him. He easily could have escaped, but Jesus chose to die.
What we do know is that his death on that cross changed not only how we understand death, but also changed the understanding of the cross. The Roman instrument of brutal death transformed into art, which we wear or with which we decorate. In addition, death itself transformed from a dead end, from a final ending, to merely the end of a chapter.
Easter happened while it was still dark. Does this then mean that the place for us to find Easter is in the lightless places in our lives? Are we actually ready for the brightness of Easter if we have not gone into the hidden places in our souls, the places where we buried our mortal wounds—both those received and those dished out?
Easter celebrated in cathedrals makes no sense unless it begins in the homeless camp down by the riverside. Easter with trumpet fanfares is meaningless unless it first begins on street corners where a family wails because an innocent person died by the actions of a drunk driver. Easter at buffet lines and family gatherings is worthless if it does not first happen at soup kitchens and family visiting days in prison. Finally, do we not all dream for the day where every battlefield evolves into a park hosting the Easter eggs hunts?
I suspect, since the women found the tomb empty, that if we go to the lightless, hopeless, decaying and soul-crushing places—in our soul or in our nation or in the world—we can find something of God’s transforming presence already there, maybe hiding among Easter eggs. Those are the Easter eggs for which it is worth hunting.
Mark Wiley came to Claremont in 1976 to study at Claremont School of Theology. After serving in five churches, marrying a clergywoman Jan, and raising two kids, he returned to pastor the Claremont United Methodist church in July 2014.